Sunday, September 11, 2016

We’re lagging behind in becoming bicycle-pedestrian friendly

Florida Weekly 'Outdoors' column, 9/7/2016

We’ve got a long way to go to really be bicycle-pedestrian friendly.

With summer ending, many vacations are now just a (hopefully) fond memory. If you traveled within or outside Florida and paid attention to other environments for walking, running and cycling, you are likely keenly aware of the differences between our community and elsewhere. In some cases we’re clearly more accommodating but in others our infrastructure is lacking by comparison. But the existence of sidewalks, shared use pathways and bike lanes doesn’t necessarily equate to being more bike-pedestrian friendly, even when there are plenty of them in place. Lee County and much of Florida are prime examples of that fact.

Due to over-design of many of our roads and highways — which create an expectation of speed and uninterrupted movement — our environment for non-motorists leaves much to be desired. Crossing streets, particularly at major intersections, is oftentimes harrowing, primarily because of motorists’ illegal right-turn movements. Few stop in the correct location (prior to a crosswalk) if they even stop at all before making a right turn on red. Along with distracted driving, speeding and a general propensity to fail to stop prior to the crosswalk (marked or unmarked), these four all-too-common actions by drivers create a hostile environment for non-motorists throughout our network. It’s little wonder many pedestrians and side-path riding cyclists shun crosswalks and instead choose to cross mid-block for their own safety.

West First Street in downtown Fort Myers is ripe for shared lanes marking, or sharrow, treatment. 
West First Street in downtown Fort Myers is ripe
for shared lanes marking, or sharrow, treatment.
(National Association of City Transportation Officials)
In the past few years most of our local governments and the Florida Department of Transportation have adopted Complete Streets policies that require them to adequately accommodate all users. That’s vital to improved conditions becoming a reality, but implementation of the policy and buy-in among those who make infrastructure decisions are just as important.

Pressure to stick to the status quo of moving as many cars as fast as possible remains an issue, so it will be some time before there’s any noticeable change.

Additionally, fixing long-term and significant problems, such as complete lack of pedestrian access and inadequate bicycle accommodation on most of our major bridges, isn’t even on anyone’s to-do list.

One simple step to improve the environment that could be taken immediately is enforcement of illegal sidewalk parking. It’s pretty hard to justify allowing this violation to go unchecked, but that’s the case. Considering our governments do not allocate enough money to build sidewalks where none exist you’d think these same governments would not routinely overlook access being denied or hindered where sidewalks do exist.

This lack of concern and enforcement makes clear that as a community we still put our motor vehicles above our residents and visitors.

It says a lot about our collective priorities if we can’t keep publically funded sidewalks clear of obstructions so moms with strollers, people in wheelchairs, kids riding bikes and everyone else on foot or a bike could use them. Neighbors should not need to call in violators since that can lead to other problems. All it should take is a law enforcement official driving by the scene where it occurs and taking proactive action, which could be as easy as making a verbal request to refrain from blocking access. This could also be part of Community Service Aids, VOICE volunteers and Neighborhood Watch officials’ duties.

Another shortcoming is the almost total lack of innovative designs or features for cyclists that would enhance safety and efficiency. Things like green bike lanes, designated areas for bikes to wait at intersections (bike boxes), road diets that add bike lanes and more frequent use of shared lane marking, or sharrows, are effective and inexpensive. Except for a few sharrows here and there (Gladiolus Drive at Harlem Heights and St. James City on Pine Island) and one road diet (South Point Boulevard in South Fort Myers) none of the others have yet been used.

As FDOT and our local governments begin implementing their respective Complete Streets policies, there are many opportunities to employ designs and treatments that are well established elsewhere. Along with throttling back overdesign that induces speeding, let’s hope we start to see some innovation on the ground over the next few years. Otherwise we’ll never really be a bicycle-pedestrian friendly community, no matter how many sidewalks and pathways we have. ¦

- Dan Moser is a long-time bicycle/pedestrian advocate and traffic safety professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. Contact him at and 334- 6417.

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